A last will and testament is an important component in planning the distribution of your estate—real estate, personal property and cash assets—upon your death. Alaska wills give the person writing the will (called a testator) the opportunity to provide for their spouse, children, relatives, friends, and other loved ones after his or her death. Pet care may also be included in a last will and testament.
Not to be confused with a last will, a living will provides instructions that take effect if you become incapacitated and incapable of making decisions regarding your health and medical care. A living will, if necessary, takes effect during your lifetime while a last will takes effect only after you’ve passed away. Alaska allows living wills, called advance health care directives under Alaska law.
Do You Need a Last Will and Testament?
Although a last will and testament is not legally required, without a will, state laws (called laws of intestacy) will determine the distribution of the testator’s assets. The outcome under intestacy rules may not coincide with the decedent’s (the person who has passed away) wishes, however, which means it is generally advisable to create a last will and testament.
There are many benefits to having an Alaska last will, but one of the most important is that it allows the testator to choose the executor of the estate. The executor is the person who will be responsible for carrying out the wishes contained in the will. If no executor is chosen, a court will do so.
An Alaska last will also offers the opportunity to make a charitable gift and create a trust for the testator’s spouse and children and to nominate a person to act as legal guardian of the children.
In addition to testamentary trusts (i.e., trusts created through a last will and testament) that provide a benefit for people, Alaska law specifically allows the creation of a “pet trust” in order to provide for the care of an animal after its owner’s death. A pet trust in Alaska must be for a period of 21 years or less and terminate upon the death of the last animal covered by the trust. This trust would be used for the care of the animals included in the trust.
Before the terms of a will can be accepted, the will must be proven in probate court. Probate is the court-supervised process of distributing the estate of a deceased person. Alaska has informal probate, which bypasses the court to distribute property, as well as supervised administration, which can be requested to have the court oversee property distribution.
Intestacy: Dying Without a Will
Someone who dies without a will is called “intestate,” which invokes the strict laws of intestacy. Generally speaking, in Alaska, if you have a surviving spouse, he or she will inherit your entire estate unless you also have descendants that are not shared with the spouse. The surviving spouse's share depends on whether you also have such descendants or surviving parents and whether the surviving spouse has other descendants from a previous relationship.
If you don’t have a surviving spouse or other descendants, then other relatives, such as siblings and grandparents, will inherit your estate. Their share depends on the closeness of their relation to you.
If you would like to have control over the distribution of your assets and to avoid the application of intestacy laws, it is vital that you have a will.
Exceptions to Ability to Distribute Property
Not all property you own can be distributed according to an Alaska will. For example, any property owned as a joint tenant with right of survivorship cannot be devised by will.
Other restrictions in Alaska include the following:
- Spousal elective share: Surviving spouse is entitled to 1/3 of the value of the estate, reduced by funeral and administrative expenses, homestead allowance, family allowances, exempt property, and enforceable claims against the estate.
- Homestead allowance: Surviving spouse is entitled to a homestead allowance of $27,000. If there is no surviving spouse, each minor child and each dependent child of the decedent is entitled to a homestead allowance in equal shares totaling $27,000.
- Exempt property: Surviving spouse (or decedent’s children if no surviving spouse) is entitled $10,000 in household furniture, automobiles, furnishings, appliances, and personal effects from the estate.
Form a Last Will in Alaska
The basic requirements for an Alaska last will and testament include the following:
- Age: The testator must be at least 18 years old.
- Capacity: The testator must be of sound mind.
- Signature: The will must be signed by the testator or by someone else in the testator’s name in the testator’s presence, by the testator’s direction.
- Witnesses: An Alaska will must be signed by at least two credible witnesses, who should not also be beneficiaries in the will.
- Writing: An Alaska will must be in writing to be valid.
- Beneficiaries: A testator can leave property to any beneficiary.
Other Recognized Wills in Alaska
Alaska recognizes handwritten (holographic) wills if they are executed in accordance with Alaska law “whether or not witnessed, if the signature and material portions of the document are in the testator's handwriting.”
Changing an Alaska Last Will and Testament
An Alaska will may be changed at any time the testator wishes to do so by codicil, a document that makes additions or changes to an original will. To be valid, a codicil must be executed according to the procedures outlined for valid wills.
Revoking an Alaska Last Will and Testament
The revocation of an Alaska will can be accomplished in the following ways:
(1) by executing a subsequent will that revokes the previous will or part expressly or by inconsistency; or
(2) by performing a revocatory act on the will if the testator performed the act with the intent and for the purpose of revoking the will or part of the will or if another individual performed the act in the testator's conscious presence and by the testator's direction.
A “revocatory act” includes “burning, tearing, canceling, obliterating, or destroying” the will or part of it.
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